Stu­dents, par­ents rally in sup­port of Hilton Head High prin­ci­pal O’Nan

The Island Packet - - Front Page - BY MAG­GIE ANGST [email protected]­land­

About 100 stu­dents, par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered be­hind Hilton Head Is­land High School on Thurs­day morn­ing to rally in sup­port of Prin­ci­pal Amanda O’Nan, who was placed on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave Tues­day as the dis­trict in­ves­ti­gates al­le­ga­tions she had sex with a for­mer sher­iff’s deputy on school grounds.

A group of stu­dents from the


Hilton Head Is­land Town Coun­cil­man David Ames

high school or­ga­nized the rally after hear­ing in­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Herb Berg placed O’Nan on leave and asked the State De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to do an in­de­pen­dent re­view of the al­le­ga­tions.

“When some­body is will­ing to fight for their stu­dents, I think that it’s only fair that the stu­dents fight back for her when we get to things like this,” said Hilton Head High se­nior Zach Waters.

Waters, along with most of the par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers at Thurs­day’s rally, said he wants to see O’Nan con­tinue her du­ties as prin­ci­pal while the dis­trict con­ducts its in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“If the be­hav­iors that she’s be­ing ac­cused of are true, we don’t con­done that. But we’re still stand­ing with her un­til this goes through the due process and this in­ves­ti­ga­tion has run its course,” Waters said.

Au­drey Clay­ton, a par­ent and pres­i­dent of the school’s PTO, echoed the sen­ti­ment, say­ing O’Nan was “pulled from her po­si­tion pre­ma­turely.”

“The stu­dents, and I think a lot of the par­ents, feel very strongly that her pres­ence is needed at the school,” Clay­ton said Thurs­day.

O’Nan has served as the prin­ci­pal of Hilton Head Is­land High School since 2006 and is well­re­garded for the school’s suc-

cess, in­clud­ing rais­ing its grad­u­a­tion rate by more than 20 per­cent­age points and ex­pand­ing its in­ter­na­tional bac­calau­re­ate pro­gram. The school has been rec­og­nized dur­ing re­cent years as one of South Carolina’s best high schools for both its aca­demics and its ath­let­ics.

Hilton Head Is­land Town Coun­cil­man David Ames, who was in at­ten­dance at Thurs­day’s rally, said he has worked with O’Nan for 10 years and has wit­nessed how she has trans­formed the school.

“I think it would be a tragedy to lose such a nat­u­ral leader, in my opin­ion,” Ames said.

A “Stand with Ms. O’Nan” pe­ti­tion — cre­ated Wed­nes­day night on — had more than 1,500 sig­na­tures as of 10 a.m. Thurs­day.

Sup­port­ers are ad­vo­cat­ing for a “dis­tinc­tion to be made be­tween Ms. O’Nan’s per­sonal life and pro­fes­sional ca­reer through­out this in­ves­ti­ga­tion” with a goal of “rapid re­in­state­ment of Ms. O’Nan to her po­si­tion as prin­ci­pal,” the on­line pe­ti­tion states.

De­spite the pe­ti­tion’s large sup­port, dis­trict spokesper­son Jim Foster said O’Nan will re­main on leave un­til the dis­trict’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­pleted.

“We ab­so­lutely sup­port peo­ple’s First Amend­ment rights to ex­press their opin­ions, but those opin­ions will not af­fect the dis­trict’s per­son­nel re­view,” Foster said Thurs­day.

In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Berg’s de­ci­sion to place O’Nan on leave came less than a day after The Is­land Packet and The Beau­fort Gazette re­ported that dur­ing June 2018 for­mer Staff Sgt. DeJuan Holmes ad­mit­ted to sher­iff’s of­fice in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he had an af­fair with O’Nan, had driven her around in his squad car and had sex with her in­side the school while on duty.

Holmes’ ad­mis­sion came as part of an in­ter­nal af­fairs in­quiry that he avoided dur­ing 2016 by re­sign­ing when the al­le­ga­tions arose. When he tried to reap­ply for his job in early 2018, he was told the com­ple­tion of the in­quiry was re­quired be­fore pos­si­bly re­gain­ing his job.

The Packet and the Gazette do not typ­i­cally


write about al­le­ga­tions of af­fairs, but both par­ties are or were in unique po­si­tions of pub­lic trust and the ac­cu­sa­tions in­clude claims that they abused their po­si­tions and used a pub­lic school build­ing and pub­lic equip­ment to do so.

O’Nan de­nied both the af­fair and abus­ing her po­si­tion with the school dur­ing 2016 when her then-hus­band Chris O’Nan made the al­le­ga­tions. When asked about Holmes’ ad­mis­sion Mon­day, O’Nan de­clined com­ment.

On Tues­day night, O’Nan shared a Face­book post made in sup­port of her re­in­state­ment and wrote: “I’m go­ing out on a limb by speak­ing when I’ve been told to re­frain from com­ment, but I’ve never been one to shy away or back down … If you wish to share your opin­ion I sug­gest you email the Board and Dr. Berg, not (the high school’s as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal) Joe Skir­tich.”

When asked if the dis­trict told O’Nan not to talk about the al­le­ga­tions or in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Foster de­clined to com­ment.

Foster also de­clined to pro­vide any de­tails about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­til a con­clu­sion is reached, he said. It is un­clear at this time how the long the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will take.

The dis­trict’s ad­min­is­tra­tive reg­u­la­tions state that em­ploy­ees are “ex­pected to set the kind of ex­am­ple for stu­dents which will serve them well in their own con­duct and which sub­se­quently con­trib­utes to an ap­pro­pri­ate school at­mos­phere.”

Dis­trict em­ploy­ees can face dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, in­clud­ing dis­missal from em­ploy­ment, for “be­hav­ing in any in­ap­pro­pri­ate man­ner to the ex­tent of ad­versely af­fect­ing the em­ployee’s abil­ity to per­form his/her work,” ac­cord­ing to the reg­u­la­tions.

MAG­GIE ANGST [email protected]­land­

Hilton Head Is­land High School se­nior Zach Waters, left cen­ter, gives a speech Thurs­day at a rally in sup­port of the school’s prin­ci­pal Amanda O’Nan. About 100 stu­dents, par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers gath­ered to take a stand against the dis­trict’s de­ci­sion to place O’Nan on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave while it in­ves­ti­gates im­proper con­duct al­le­ga­tions.

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